[lit-ideas] Re: Books that bite and sting...

  • From: Ursula Stange <Ursula@xxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 08 Jun 2008 15:58:01 -0400

When you preach to the choir, you only get Amen's in return. And Lit-Ideas rules don't allow them.

As to Berman's book, I haven't read it, but suspect that I, too, would find it world-view affirming. And, yes, that's comforting. And, yes, we all do it. I don't quite get the negative-identity thing, though. Canada is big on 'negative-identity', but of a different sort (kinder and gentler, don't you know). We're no longer British and we're sure not American. But that's usually as far as it goes. When I first came to Canada (back in '68) there was a whole lot of navel-gazing going on. Weighty questions like why Canada didn't have a national mythology (like the U.S.) were debated on the national airwaves and even the odd pub. Then we got busy and forgot about it all.
Heavier fare next time...
U.S. in Canada

Andy wrote:

I'm not sure that I was talking about the people on this list. I really don't know what they read because other than Paul, people on this list don't really say what they read or watch or listen to (other than hard core philosophy). You also missed the third sentence of my rant, "...I'm doing that right > now. [I.e, reading a book I agree with, although I said that I had visited conservative sites and they consist of virtual reality, nothing factual at all, so they're not worth reading.] I was hoping that someone would have responded to the issues I raised. Lighter fare next time I guess.

--- On *Sun, 6/8/08, Ursula Stange /<Ursula@xxxxxxxxxx>/* wrote:

    From: Ursula Stange <Ursula@xxxxxxxxxx>
    Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: Books that bite and sting...
    To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
    Date: Sunday, June 8, 2008, 6:14 PM

    Two things...
The people on this list do read books that bite and sting. The ones that don't left long ago. So, your rant is about the population generally (about which you are assuredly correct). Can't remember who (John Dewey, maybe) lamented about the state of a world where the vast majority of people can read but have no idea what is worth reading. As you say, 'don't rock my boat and I'm happy' is the majority attitude. (Canadians do read a little more widely than Americans, 46 % of whom, I read recently, haven't read a book of any kind in the last year.) Second: Not sleeping well last night, I also heard a radio interview (BBC World Service, I think) with the director of the Genghis Khan movie. I'm sure I winked away parts of it, but one of his main points seemed to be that G.K.'s history was written by his enemies, so, of course, he's memorialized the way he is (much like the way the Assyrians are portrayed in the Bible).

    North Bay

    Andy wrote:
    > Unfortunately, people don't read books that bite and sting.  They read

> books that tell them what they already know. I'm doing that right > now. I'm reading Morris Berman's Dark Ages America and boy do I agree > with it. I did once go to one of the major 'conservative' sites so > called and there was no biting and stinging, just a lot of flapping of > ideology. Nearly every word was of the democracy is on the march > variety, it was a virtual parallel universe. I suspect few will read > Berman's book, because, quoting from Berman who quotes from W.H. > Auden, "The Age of Anxiety", "We would rather be ruined than > changed." It it ain't broke, don't fix it. Another quote from Berman > regarding our supposed multiculturalism: "America is as diverse as a

> one string guitar." He further makes the point, among a gazillion > other points, that America was founded without a cohesive sense of > identity, ultimately leading us to form a 'negative identity', which > is to say, our never-ending need for an enemy to oppose; i.e., we are > what they are not (good/evil, etc.). On page 244 "...during the > Revolution the colonists abandoned their monarchical allegiance, > leaving them without a glue to hold their society together. They thus > turned to Enlightenment values to replace the traditional ones; but > these values, with their emphasis on 'natural virtue,' proved to be > too idealistic in actual practice, and so the glue of the new society > eventually became nothing loftier than the freedom to make money > [culminating in the spiritual malaise we're in today]." His treatment > of Islam is equally nonideological.
> > > Berman directly addresses the American propensity toward violence, but > also indirectly. I recently was told that there's a television > program on NBC at 10:00 called Fear Itself. From what I understand > it's a horror show, graphic in nature. I'm also told that there are > movies in the theaters now that are, subjectively, ten times worse. > Why would we not invade Vietnam and Iraq if our entertainment is a > virtualized Roman gladiator arena? Since shock has a way of needing > to be ever escalated for the same buzz, one has to wonder at what > levels of horror this will finally wind up. Curiously, we virtualize > through entertainment our violence (when we're not doing it in 3D), > while cleaning up on CNN and other news outlets of the hideously > graphic violence we inflict with our wars; al Jazeera on the contrary > shows the burned limbless bodies of noncombatants while we scream > unfair propaganda. I was offended at Donal's youtube link, but it's > downright civilized and gentle compared to what Americans are watching > for entertainment. > > > > I also heard an interview with the director (he happens to be Russian) > who made a new movie on Genghis Khan. The interviewer made the > requisite statement about GK being a mass murderer to which the > director replied to the effect of that the 20th century took GK to the > nth degree so it's a bit hypocritical to be offended at GK's > violence. Humans are a violent species, and Americans are very human, > however much they like to think otherwise. We're unique, just like > everybody else. And when things happen to us they happen out of a > complete vacuum because we're so good. Rather ruined than changed...
> > > >
    > --- On *Sat, 6/7/08, Ursula Stange /<Ursula@xxxxxxxxxx>/* wrote:
    >     From: Ursula Stange <Ursula@xxxxxxxxxx>
    >     Subject: [lit-ideas] Books that bite and sting...
    >     To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
    >     Date: Saturday, June 7, 2008, 4:08 PM
    >     I'll send you my list if you send me yours...
    >     "Altogether I think we ought to read only books that bite and
    sting us.
    >     If the book we are reading doesn't shake us awake like a blow to
    >     skull, why bother reading it in the first place. So that it can make
    >     happy, as you put it? Good God, we'd be just as happy if we had no
    >     at all; books that make us happy we could, in a pinch, also write
    >     ourselves. What we need are books that hit us like a most painful
    >     misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love
    >     ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to
    >     the woods, far from any human presence, like a suicide. A book must be
    >     the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is what I believe."
    >      --- Franz Kafka to his friend, Oskar Pollack, 1904
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